The Moon, Venus, and Lyrids to put on early-morning show

Venus and the moon head for an occultation as seen from Amritsar, India, in June 2007.

If you're an early riser, set the clock for the wee hours Wednesday morning for a celestial treat.

From midnight to sunrise Wednesday, the Lyrid meter shower will be in full swing, with a peak at around 2 a.m. your local time.  The place to look as the region of "origin," or radiant, is the constellation Lyra, which will be visible in the east, clouds willing. You'll find a handy star chart here, courtesy of Astronomy magazine.

It's unclear how frequently you'll see meteors streak across the sky. The average pace is around 20 events an hour. But that pace varies widely from year to year. According to the folks over at Sky and Telescope magazine, some years have seen upwards of 90 events an hour. Certainly, the darker the skies are, the more events you'll pick out.

And before you pack it in for the morning, be sure to check out Venus and a waning crescent moon about 40 minutes before sunrise. Venus will be tight-in to the moon en route to a lunar occultation of Venus later in the day.

The occultation, when Venus slips behind the moon, will be a tough one for anyone on the East Coast of North America. There, the pairing will continue to be a near miss. Most of the continent will have to use binoculars or a telescope, since over much of the country the event starts and ends after daybreak. If you're on the West Coast, however, it could be visible to the naked eye from start to finish, at least until you get near the Oregon-Washington border.

For more on the event, you can check out Sky and Telescope's explainer and map here. The times listed on the graphic are universal coordinated time (formerly Greenwich Mean Time), so you can go here for a handy online time-zone converter, if you need one.

Up here in New England, we've got rain and clouds forecast through the end of the day Wednesday, so get a good look twice. Once for you, and once for me!

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